Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

TEBA, the century-old company that provides recruitment and other services to mineworkers, will draw on decades of experience to assist SA’s mining companies to gradually ramp up production as lockdown restrictions are eased.

The gold and platinum sectors are working with TEBA to return 350,000 miners to the gold and platinum industry as the sector slowly returns to work in phases beginning at half of capacity until lockdown expires at the end of April.

Ahead of the March 27 start of the lockdown, more mineworkers returned home than first thought, said TEBA MD Graham Herbert. “When the countdown to the lockdown began, a far larger number of mineworkers went home than many assumed. We initially thought money would be a constraint and that a lot of mineworkers [would] stay around mines to ensure jobs,” he said in an interview.

However, after looking at data from its regional offices and assessing money flows from the mines to those offices, particularly in rural areas, those assumptions changed.

“We are confident half or three-quarters of mineworkers went home. That’s why we have to think so carefully about how to re-engage mineworkers in a safe way,” Herbert said.

On April 16, when he unveiled amendments to the lockdown regulations pertaining to the minerals and energy sectors, mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe said that mining companies had the responsibility to arrange transport for employees returning to work. The return to work would follow a phased approach until mines are back at normal capacity towards the end of May, he said.

Strictly controlled

The return to work will be strictly controlled to ensure the 450,000 mining workforce does not become a problem for the government as it fights to curtail the spread of the Covid-19 virus, with a heavy onus resting on mining companies to check, test, quarantine and keep their employees safe.

TEBA has its roots in entities formed by the Transvaal Chamber of Mines in 1902, shortly after the Anglo-Boer War, to source unskilled labour in SA and neighbouring countries for the country’s idled gold mines, which by the 1970s were supplying a thousand tonnes of gold, or two-thirds of global output.

The role of the mines in fostering migrant labour, pulling apart families in rural areas and housing miners in cramped hostels is a dark episode in SA’s history.

In 2005, former unionist James Motlatsi bought TEBA and set it on a fresh course to play a more constructive role in mineworkers’ lives. It serves 1.5-million former mineworkers.

Health assessments

Against this backdrop, TEBA remains an important player in SA’s mining sector, with 100 offices countrywide, many in rural areas that serve not only as recruitment points but as places for current and former miners to use for pensions, medical queries, money transfers and communication.

It is this infrastructure and experience that TEBA will now apply to help companies recall miners, do preliminary health assessments and data collection, and arrange transport to mines, says Herbert.

“We are grateful for lessons we learnt through all the tough stuff in the past on TB and HIV as well as the big strikes in the industry. All those things taught us lessons on how to support mineworkers, the industry and gearing up back into production,” Herbert said.

Sibanye-Stillwater is relying heavily on TEBA to assist it to return its gold mines in Gauteng and the Free State to production as well as its big platinum group metals mines around Rustenburg in the North West, said spokesperson James Wellsted.

Herbert said TEBA and the mining companies are working closely on formulating a questionnaire for mineworkers to respond to, not only to check they are indeed who they are supposed to be, but whether they have been exposed to Covid-19 or are showing signs of fever, with all the details captured electronically and shared with the companies.

This would create heat maps that would give a sense of where mineworkers are most likely to be exposed to the virus and allow companies to develop strategies for handling returning employees, said Herbert.

TEBA is working on a transport strategy that entails the use of buses and minibus taxis to avoid conflict in the movement of people from rural areas to the mines, he said.

The mines are well positioned to assist the state in the fight against the spread of Covid-19, Mantashe said.

“Every time people come back to the mines from leave they undergo extensive medical testing. They go to a hospital for a period of induction up to seven days and it involves being tested medically. Those programmes and facilities must be used for testing for Covid-19,” he said.

Mining companies have bought face masks, sanitisers, protective gear and temperature-measuring devices and have equipped mine hospitals for treating Covid-19 infections.

seccombea@businesslive.co.za

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